Very few people enjoy feeling like they are in the minority or all alone. We were created as familial and social creatures, inherently suited to working together with others, finding some amount of comfort in numbers. It is because of our innate desire to be accepted as part of the group that peer pressure becomes such a factor in determining behavior. Likewise, feelings of isolation and being alone often come hand in hand with depression. As God Himself observed when He made us, “It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).”
Yet the same God who made us to be sociable, also recognized that those who followed His word, and kept His commandments, would often find themselves in a very small minority of individuals. One of the themes running throughout the length of the Bible is that it is better to be in the minority and with God, then it is to be with the majority and lost.
Consider for instance the account of Noah, who famously built the ark for the saving of all the righteous of the world who desired to escape the flood. Out of the whole of mankind at that time, only eight souls decided to trust in God and get in the ark (cf. Genesis 7:7). The rest perished. Better to have been one of the eight and in the minority who were saved than to run with the crowd which perished in the deluge.
In the days of the judges of Israel, God chose the man Gideon to save His people from slavery and the enemies of Israel (cf. Judges 6-7). To prove a point about numbers however God coerced Gideon into winnowing his fighting force down from 32,000 to a scant 300. God then sent Gideon and his three hundred men to fight against a vastly superior army – one which the Scriptures compared to a plague of locusts covering the ground (cf. Judges 7:12). But with the aid of God, the three hundred routed the thousands and gained the victory. Better to have been in the rather small army that won, than in the multitude which lost and was killed.
Later, during the reign of King Saul, the prince, Jonathan, showed his understanding of this truth when he resolved with his armor-bearer to go and defeat the Philistine garrison that had encamped at the pass of Michmash (cf. 1 Samuel 14). Jonathan explained that he did not need an army, if he had God’s aid, for, as Jonathan observed, “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6; ESV).” So the two of them went into the camp of the Philistines and commenced to win the battle for Israel. The Philistines were routed and slain and chased out of Israel. Far better to have been one of the two who fought with God on their side, than in the army which fought against them and lost.
Some years later, the prophet Elijah took a stand against 450 prophets of Baal, in a contest of prayer (cf. 1 Kings 18:20-40). At stake was the life of the prophet(s) and the acceptance of the people of one religion or the other. Elijah prayed to his God, and the prophets of Baal prayed to theirs. The prayer of Elijah called forth fire, while the prayers of the 450 accomplished nothing. Elijah gained the victory that day and the prophets of Baal were put to death. Better to have been Elijah, alone and praying to God, than in the crowd of the 450 who all worked together to pray to a god who did not actually exist.
We could continue to add many other such stories about men of God who found themselves in the minority, and yet, because they remained with God still overcame. The Bible is filled with examples of such men: Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, Jeremiah in a declining Judah, Paul as a missionary, and John exiled on Patmos. Jesus Himself, abandoned by His apostles, betrayed by Judas, and rejected by the Jews, stood alone on trial, with none to comfort Him; yet in the end, He arose triumphant against the world.
Concerning this, Jesus assured His apostles, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ (John 15:18-20; ESV)”
The “world,” as used by Jesus, represents the majority. It is the larger portion of mankind following the wisdom of the majority and rejecting the wisdom of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25). To reject the world and this received ‘wisdom,’ is to choose a path which by its very nature will sometimes feel lonely. The path that leads to life, Jesus warned, is difficult and few find it. Many more choose to walk the broad, easy path of the majority (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). But the broad path leads to destruction, and though it is the path of the crowd, the popular path, and the path of least resistance for those who want to be loved and accepted by those around them, it will always end up in the same place. Jesus teaches us how to walk with God, and we do well to listen to Him, following His word wherever it leads us. Better to walk alone with God and live, than to follow the crowd into judgment.
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Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.